As I write these lines, my compatriots and I rest quietly within the shelter of a structure straight out of legend. The place is an ancient ruin, a space which evidently functions as at once both a tomb and a gauntlet of trials for the uninitiated. It is a location that I read of once, an obscure hall previously thought no longer to exist, and yet here I sit scribbling away amidst its cold and long-lost corridors. Simply to be here, right now, is an experience of wonder. It seems a reaffirmation of all of my decisions to this point. The world is indeed a wondrous place, and it must be traversed to be known.
But let me not pass over the dangers of my scholarly approach in dwelling too long on its rewards. The Scarlet Sands Desert is a forbidding place. For all the secrets its deadly expanse holds, I can understand why so few would seek to venture here. Oppressively hot during the day and impossibly cold at night, travel here is made only more difficult by the ever-shifting terrain. I cannot imagine the hardship Vi and Renbar will face when they come to meet us with extra supplies, as we at least have been able to benefit from my ability to call forth an arcane spring when necessary throughout the day.
Even so, the heat of the sun and the constant activity of searching for ruins beneath such a vast expanse of sand can be exhausting, and there’s no accounting for the deadly storms that might sweep through at any time, or the fearsome disposition of the local fauna. Indeed, the very first day of our expedition taught us a sharp lesson in both of these things, when we were confronted first by the terrible force of a desert storm and then by a giant, insect-like creature that seemed intent on swallowing us whole.
When we moved to defend ourselves against this thing, what I believe is known in the region as a “Burrower”, we quickly discovered ourselves to be woefully overmatched. Durgash’s mightiest blows could barely phase the thing, Meg’s daggers seemed to practically bounce right off its tough exterior, and all the combined magical might of Zahra, Lillabelle, and myself appeared to amount to little more than an annoyance to it. On the other hand, the mass of wriggling tentacles surrounding the creature’s oversized maw, not to mention its sturdy jaws, tore through us with ease.
It was only when I thought to throw the last of my blast vials into its open mouth, risking all as it lunged straight for me, that we seemed to sour its appetite a little, and the horrid thing disappeared again beneath the sands. Fortunately, we managed to avoid any further encounters with these Burrowers, but the tiresome nature of the search then began to take its toll on us instead. Day after day we spent searching, looking for any signs that we might be on the verge of a discovery, but without result.
It was only after another week or so of exploration that we at last made a breakthrough. A well-placed wind blast from Zahra uncovered a set of hewn stone steps that had been hidden beneath a thin covering of sand, and we wasted no time in following them down to see where they might lead. It was at this moment that we entered into the ancient structure that I am still writing at now, though of course we had no idea at the time what its true significance was.
We discovered our first clue when Zahra noticed an inscription in Elvish carved into an old bas-relief of soldiers fighting an enemy whose nature has sadly been worn away by time. The inscription itself was difficult to make out, but it appeared to read, “I, Sextus Varius, swear the Delian Oath to serve law, battle chaos, and strive to keep Delian lore secret.” These words called to mind some of my old studies back at the academy, though in those days I was more interested in the principles of magic than I was ancient history, and so I had a hard time recalling the exact nature of the information.
By now, Meg had gotten the large brazier in the center of the room lit and was urging us to press on, and after our finding that inscription, I was eager to see more of the place myself. So it was that we pressed forward, and after a near miss involving an ancient trap mechanism that Meg managed to identify but not entirely avoid, we came to another large chamber. Here Durgash’s attention was drawn to what seemed to be the scattered remains of elves and orcs that had once been locked in combat, while Zahra focused on a statue depicting an elf warrior in some sort of leaf-themed armor that was on the opposite side of the room.
I myself noticed something of a magical aura on the far wall to one side of the statue, and as I pointed this out, Meg advanced and noticed something of a draft coming from behind the wall in that exact spot. At this point, Zahra rejoined us, noting that she’d found something of a riddle at the base of the statue she had been examining. It read, “If you are to keep this, you must first give it to me.” And that was when I finally placed what had struck me as so familiar about that first inscription.
I had indeed read of this place. It was described in a collection of fragmentary writings made by an ancient traveler most scholars refer to now as the Chronicles of Colvilius. The man had described this place, already long a ruin even in his day, in great detail, and had even ventured some theories as to solutions to this riddle, though scholarly opinion has long been divided as to the merits of his approach, and it is unknown what befell him if he ever did try out any of these theories.
Still, with that knowledge to guide me, I ventured to guess first that the answer to this vague puzzle was the concept of “one’s word”, a thing which indeed must be given to be kept, and second that this was perhaps a reference to the oath we had discovered earlier in this ruin. Sure enough, when I spoke the words of the Delian order aloud, the magic surrounding that one section of wall vanished, and in its place an open passage appeared.
We advanced through this newfound pathway together, and soon found ourselves in the midst of a surprisingly large chamber. Here there was another statue of that same elf, this time depicted in repose, and leading up to this central statue were two rows of smaller biers. Zahra again walked straight up to the statue of Sextus Varius, and discovered an odd piece of parchment wrapped around the hilt of a sword that had been placed in the statue’s hands.
Here we all grew cautious, for we have had experience with creatures rising from their graves to prevent thievery before, and I could sense a strange magic pervading the room, but surprisingly the parchment came away with no ill effect. The words written upon it, however, were puzzling in the extreme. “The Deezle toadstool does not come before the ground troll bone powder.” It seems the fragment of a recipe for some sort of arcane purpose, but what exactly that is, and indeed why this parchment should be so remarkably well preserved, remains a mystery.
In any case, it didn’t give us very much to go on, and so it wasn’t long before Zahra, no doubt feeling emboldened by her initial success, decided to try her luck at removing the sword itself from the statue’s grasp. It was at this moment, then, that we all heard the unmistakable sound of stone scraping against stone, and sure enough, we turned to find the corpses from the graves behind us had risen and intended to do battle.
After our experience with the mighty desert Burrower, however, these reanimated corpses presented us with little challenge. Durgash managed to practically fell one of them right at the start of the battle with a single mighty blow. Accordingly, we made short work of this threat, with two of the monsters falling to Durgash’s skull-crushing axe, two more to Zahra’s powerful magic attacks, one to a particularly devastating arcane blast from Lillabelle, and the last to an expertly placed blow of Meg’s that took the creature’s head clean off.
Curiously, though, as soon as that final blow struck home, there came the audible sound of a voice speaking the words, “Well done,” and the statue of Sextus Varius disappeared. In its place, we discovered three different healing potions, as well as an arcane object. Upon investigation, it appeared that the last of these items could be used to provide a sort of tent. But why should our thievery have been rewarded? It seems this whole place must have been devoted not merely to honoring the fallen members of this Delian order, but as a challenge to perhaps test the worthiness of new members.
The whole thing strikes me as an odd practice, and when considered along with the emphasis the oath seems to place on both order and secrecy, it makes me wonder what the world must have been like when such warrior elves walked the earth. What could have given rise to an organization such as this one? Did it all truly end in a final clash against a group of orcs? Ah, the mysteries that time manages to hide from us. But perhaps we will learn more of these things as we continue to search these desert sands.
It is all well and good to spend the night taking shelter in an ancient ruin out of legend, but there remain plenty of mysteries still to uncover. Will that fragment of a note prove helpful in our quest for the Necrognomicon? Is there some relation between this mythical tome and the strange devastation wrought by the odd appearance of animals in the sky? I remain eager to find out.